Alan Truscott.
Alan Truscott.

Do you think you know the standard safety plays?  Here is a small collection of simple suit combinations that are regularly mismanaged by competent bridge-players and confident bridge-writers. Assume in each case that you are playing in no trumps, and that you are lavishly provided with entries in each hand. Unless otherwise stated you require the maximum possible tricks. Where you can afford to lose a trick, you should, other things being equal, bear in mind the possibility of losing no tricks. Remember that these are problems in practical play, and that they are not as easy as they look.

In each case North is dummy, South declarer.

1.

A Q 2
5 4 3

2.

A 9 8 3 2
J 10 5 4

3.

K J 3 2
A 9

4.

A J 8 7 6
Q 9 3

In the next two questions three tricks are needed:

5.

A 9 7 2
Q 10 8 3

6.

A J 3 2
K 9 4

7.

A J 9 2
K 4 3

8.

A K 9 8
J 3 2

9.

A Q 10 3 2
6 5 4

10.

A J 9 3 2
K 4

And here is an optional supplementary question for bridge mathematicians:

11. There are only two common combinations which offer a 37,5 percent chance of an extra trick (A J 9 opposite x x x and Q 10 x opposite x x x). Can you name the three common combinations which offer a 62,5 per cent chance?

Answers…follow the arrows….

1.

A Q 2
5 4 3

Lead the Two from dummy (10 points). This gives a good practical chance that RHO (right-hand opponent) will climb up with the King if he has not the Jack. Take 5 points for ducking the first round, or playing the Ace. 0 points for finessing the Queen at once.

2.

A 9 8 3 2
J 10 5 4

Take two finesses (10 points). This is a 76 per cent chance. Take 5 points for taking one finesse and then playing for the drop, which is a 70 per cent chance. No points for playing the Ace at once, a 65 per cent chance. (In practice, of course, it may not always be convenient to adopt the best percentage line.)

3.

K J 3 2
A 9

Lead small from dummy and finesse the Nine. If this loses to the Ten, there is still the chance that the Queen will drop in three rounds (10 points). This is a 68 per cent chance, and far better than finessing the Jack, for which 0 points.

4.

A J 8 7 6
Q 9 3

Lead the Queen. If this is covered, later finesse for the Ten. (10 points). This gives a 26 per cent chance of 5 tricks. (25 per cent for both honours with LHO, less the chance that he has all 5 cards, plus the chance
that RHO has singleton Ten). Take 5 points for finessing the Jack and returning to lead the Queen, which is a 19 per cent chance of five tricks. 0 points for finessing the Jack and then playing the Ace: this is also 19 per cent for five tricks, but is more likely to end up with only three tricks.

5.

A 9 7 2
Q 10 8 3

Lead the Two from dummy and watch for a reaction on your right. If RHO has the King he is likely to play it or at least hesitate. If he plays low without hesitation finesse the Ten. If this loses to the Jack, finesse the Nine on the next round. (10 points.) This gives just about as good a theoretical chance as the ” book ” play of taking two finesses through LHO, with the considerable additional practical chance that RHO will betray his holding of the King. Take 5 points for taking two finesses. 0 points for playing the Ace on the first round.

6.

A J 3 2
K 9 4

Play the King, then the Four to the Ace, and later lead the Nine. (10 points.) This fails only when LHO has a small singleton or doubleton, giving an 85 per cent chance. The expert is sometimes tempted to play the Ace and finesse the Nine, by analogy with the safety play missing four cards only. This is fractionally worse, because it loses to a small doubleton with RHO, or a doubleton Ten with LHO. (Take 5 points.) Only 5 points also for the right play in the wrong sequence. By leading the King and then the Four you can try for four tricks if LHO produces the Ten on the second round. It now costs nothing to play the Jack. No points for any other play.

7.

A J 9 2
K 4 3

May the King, then the Four to – the Ace unless LHO plays the Ten. (10 points.) This is the same in principle as the last one. For the same play in a different sequence, or an un-specified sequence, take 5 points. Note that if you can lead from either hand but do not want to use a side entry to make the third lead of the suit it is slightly better to lead from hand to the Ace than to lead the Ace. A cunning LHO then has the opportunity to give you four tricks by putting up the Queen from Q 10 x.

8.

A K 9 8
J 3 2

Play the Nine and watch for a reaction from RHO. If he plays low promptly, run the Nine. If this loses to the Ten, cash the Ace later and finesse LHO for the Queen. (10 points.) Take 5 points for taking two finesses through LHO, which gives a smaller practical chance of three tricks, but gives a chance of four tricks. No points for cashing the Ace and King, which is the worst percentage chance.

9.

A Q 10 3 2
6 5 4

Finesse the Queen on the first round. (10 points.) For the purpose of making four tricks the finesse of the ten is equally good if the suit splits 3-2. But if RHO has a singleton honour matters are different. Finessing the Queen wins four tricks when RHO has the singleton Jack, but finessing the Ten does not win four tricks when RHO has the singleton King. Take 5 points for finessing the Ten, which is only 3 per cent worse and gives a chance of five tricks. No points for cashing the Ace and then leading to the Ten. This is just worse than finessing the Ten originally, and offers no hope of five tricks.

10.

A J 9 3 2
K 4

Play the King and finesse the Jack. (10 points.) The critical positions arise when RHO has a doubleton. This play loses only to doubleton Queen. Take 5 points only for finessing the Nine. This loses only to doubleton Ten, which is as likely as doubleton Queen. The chance of four tricks is the same, but finessing the Jack gives a chance of five tricks. (It is true that if RHO has a singleton, finessing the, Nine might make an endplay possible, but this is very remote indeed.) No points for playing the Ace and King, a play chosen by a majority of experts when polled on the subject. This loses whenever RHO starts with a small doubleton, which is more likely than doubleton Queen. (There are six possible small doubletons, and only four possible doubleton Queens.)

An attractive fallacy is possible here. One can argue that when the finessing point is reached RHO’s remaining card if he started with a doubleton is the Queen, the Ten or a particular small card. The three possible plays each gain in two cases out of three and are therefore equally good. The fallacy lies in assum-ing that the three possible cards for RHO are equally likely: in fact, the small card is the most probable.

Now add up your score, and rate yourself ‘according to the following table:

0-30 You need practice in handling difficult situations, and some theoretical study will improve your game.

35-50 A good score for a club player.

55-70 A good score for a county player.

75-90 A good score for a master player.

95-100 I do not believe it. You must have cheated on the marking.

Finally, Question 11: There are only two common combinations which offer a 37,5% chance of an extra trick (A J 9 opposite x x x and Q 10 x opposite x x x). Can you name the three common combinations which offer a 62,5% chance?

The three situations are:

A Q 9 K 10 x J 9 x J 9 x
x x x x x x Q x x
(i) (ii) (iii)

No. (i) has the extra chance of LHO having J10.

No. (ii) has the extra chance of LHO having QJ.

No. (iii) has the extra chance of RHO having AK. Some players do, not realise the importance here of making the first lead toward South’s Queen.

You can count 5 bonus marks for giving each of these cases.